Hell (Geenna) (NIDNTTE)

In many modern English versions of the Bible, the word hell is used fourteen times (eleven by Jesus). The Greek word in twelve of these instances is γεεννα (geenna or gehenna). What does this word “hell” or “geenna” mean? It’s actually the Greek transliteration of the Old Testament phrase “Valley of Hinnom.” Below is a helpful summary of geenna in the NIDNTTE. It’s helpful because it gives us some of the OT background of the NT’s teaching about hell.

In Jewish Literature:

The word γεεννα is not certainly attested prior to the NT…. The term is a transliteration of Aram. גֵּיהִנָּם, which in turn derives from Heb. גֵּי־הִנֹּם, “Valley of Hinnom,” referring to what is now known as Wadi er-Rababi, just S and W of Jerusalem (Josh 15:8; 18:16; 2 Chr 33:6; Isa 31:9; 66:24; Jer 32:35 [LXX 39:35]). Because child sacrifices were sometimes offered in this valley (cf. 2 Kgs 16:3; 21:6), Josiah had it desecrated (2 Kgs 23:10). According to Jer 7:32 and 19:6–7, it will be the place of God’s judgment (cf. Isa 30:33; 66:24).

Jewish apocalyptic [literature] refers to “a valley, deep and burning with fire” (1 En. 54.1; cf. 56.3 et al.), apparently assuming that the Valley of (Ben) Hinnom would become, after the final judgment, the hell of fire (this idea may have been influenced by the fact that the valley evidently was used for burning refuse and the bodies of criminals). Hence the name γέεννα came to be applied to the eschatological place of punishment in general….

The word geenna in NT literature:

The term γεεννα occurs 12× in the NT, mainly in Matthew (Matt 5:22, 29–30 [par. 18:8–9 and Mark 9:43, 45, 47]; Matt 10:28 [par. Luke 12:5]; Matt 23:15 [υἱὸς γεέννης], 33; Jas 3:6). Because it is a place of fire (ἡ γέεννα τοῦ πυρός, Matt 5:22; 18:9; τὸ πῦρ τὸ ἄσβεστον, “unquenchable,” Mark 9:43 [cf. Matt 3:12 = Luke 3:17]), Gehenna is elsewhere referred to by such phrases as “the blazing furnace” (Matt 13:42, 50), “the eternal fire” (25:41), and “the fiery lake” (Rev 19:20 et al.). Gehenna is distinguished from Hades, which evidently houses the souls of the dead before the last judgment; indeed, Hades along with death will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:14). The same punishment will overtake Satan and the demons, the beast from the abyss, and the false prophet (Matt 25:41; Rev 20:10).

 Moisés Silva, ed., New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 548.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

2 thoughts on “Hell (Geenna) (NIDNTTE)”

  1. It is my understanding that after Josiah destroyed the idols he turned this valley into Jerusalem’s garbage dump where fire always burned.

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    1. Yes! In 2 Ki 23 it says he “defiled” part of this valley. He may have thrown all sorts of dead animals there, and/or human waste, and other “unclean” things.


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